Will Kraus is my state senator. I voted for Sen. Kraus in his contested primary where he defeated an incumbent who staunchly opposed justice issues.
Writing as a constituent, I am deeply disappointed. I thought Sen. Kraus would stand up for justice and independent courts. I thought Sen. Kraus would be different.
Ken Garten is another of Sen. Kraus' constituents. Ken wrote a piece in The Examiner voicing his disappointment as well. Ken mentioned that he had written Sen. Kraus to express his disappointment in Sen. Kraus' support of SJR 51 – a bill that effectively destroys the Missouri Non-Partisan Court Plan. Ken also published Sen. Kraus' response:
I can understand whey you all are very frustrated with my vote in committee. I can tell you I am frustrated when I hear judges award unemployment benefits to a person that falls asleep at work or a person that violently clears files off the top of a filing cabinet. I also question how the appellant [sic] judges draw two unconstitutional maps. Someone must question the current system when we have situations like I mentioned above. No system is perfect and we need to make improvements over time.
My door is always open,
Before the floor vote on SJR 51, I also sent Sen. Kraus an email through his Senate web page. I never got a response.
But let's look at Sen. Kraus' response to Ken.
"I am frustrated when I hear judges award unemployment benefits to a person that falls asleep at work or a person that violently clears files off the top of a filing cabinet."
As Sen. Kraus surely knows, workers compensation is a "no fault" system of insurance compensation for workplace injuries. "No fault" means workers compensation benefits can be paid even if there is not negligence on the part of the employer. "No fault" compensation is a bargained-for benefit given in exchange for immunizing employers from tort liability and drastically reducing employers' potential liability for workplace injuries. Employers cannot be sued by employees. Employees receive much lower compensation awards under workers' compensation than they would under normal civil liability. In exchange, employers cover a broader array of injuries including those for which the employer was not necessarily negligent. This is not a frustration. This how the system was designed to work.
"I also question how the appellant [sic] judges draw two unconstitutional maps."
District maps are supposed to be drawn by legislators – not judges. You can find the House members on the redistricting committee here. Senate redistricting committee members can be found here. It's only when the legislators can't or won't do their job that appellate judges are forced to step and finish the job. As reported by St. Louis NPR last August, legislators gave up on redistricting and turned to a panel of judges to finish the job for them.
A commission tasked with redrawing State Senate districts in Missouri has thrown in the towel and will allow a panel of judges to do the job.
A six-judge panel will now redraw Missouri's State Senate map. Last week a similar commission failed to agree on redrawing Missouri's State House districts, which now will also be redrawn by a panel of judges.
So, it looks like Sen. Kraus doesn't really have anything to be frustrated about. But what if he did? How does destroying the Missouri Non-Partisan Court Plan with SJR 51 and replacing it with a politicized plan get better workers' compensation decisions or better legislative district maps? The simple – and obvious – answer is: It doesn't.
Numerous commentators have voiced their support for the Missouri Court Plan:
Ken Garten: Keep politics out of selecting judges [at The Examiner]
Judicial selection (Trying to undo the Missouri Plan) [Henry J. Waters III at the Columbia Tribune]
Keep politics out of Missouri judiciary [Kansas City Star]
It's not perfect, but Missouri Plan makes sense [Bruce Secrist at The Joplin Globe]
Campaign would politicize picking judges in Missouri [Cheryl Capages at the Springfield News-Leader]
Sen. Kraus has many constituents in his district. I know several of them contacted Sen. Kraus – as I did – specifically asking him to vote against SJR 51 and support the merit selection of judges through Missouri's Non-Partisan Court Plan. I don't know of any constituents asking Sen. Kraus to support SJR 51. I wonder: What was the tally? How many constituents asked Sen. Kraus to support SJR 51 and how many asked him to oppose it?
An independent judiciary – a judiciary free of undue political influence, cronyism, and special interests – is the cornerstone and linchpin for our constitutional freedoms. Our freedom and liberty are threatened If cases are influenced by special interests and political influence instead of simply the facts and the law.
What is your remedy if someone violates your constitutional rights to free speech, to religious freedom, to keep and bear arms, to contract, etc.? These are civil law (or civil justice) claims in which you take the bad actor to court in order to have your rights protected.
What happens when the person violating your rights has a lobbying team? What happens when the person violating your rights has political influence? What happens when your rights might be affected not just by the constitution, but some political influence?
Sen. Kraus understands why many of his constituents "are very frustrated" with his vote. Other senators were tepid or outright contradictory in their support. One senator voted for SJR 51 only out of fear of "receiving a nuclear enema next year." Another voted for the bill even though he didn't "want a one-term governor to be able to pack the commission."
If the new plan has so many problems, why not keep the plan that works? Why not keep the plan drafted by Rush Limbaugh's grandfather? Why not keep the plan that takes politics out of the courtroom?
(c) Copyright 2012 Brett A. Emison
Follow @BrettEmison on Twitter.
Brett Emison is currently a partner at Langdon & Emison, a firm dedicated to helping injured victims across the country from their primary office near Kansas City. Mainly focusing on catastrophic injury and death cases as well as complex mass tort and dangerous drug cases, Mr. Emison often deals with automotive defects, automobile crashes, railroad crossing accidents (train accidents), trucking accidents, dangerous and defective drugs, defective medical devices.